From Zizek’s Monstrous Politics to The Political Theology of Kierkegaard’s Housing Project


For it is not so great a trick to win the crowd. All that is needed is some talent, a certain dose of falsehood, and a little acquaintance with human passion.

       Kierkegaard The Point of View

 Slavoj Zizek’s leading question is how we are to reformulate a leftist anti-capitalist project in an era of global capitalism. In attempting to answer this question, Zizek often uses Kierkegaard’s insights to add weight to his analysis of the problems associated with our social and political reality.  Yet when one reads Zizek’s work on Kierkegaard one is struck by the sheer amount of inconsistencies that are generated. Zizek considers Kierkegaard from the point of view of the political in such a way that he avoids the religious, but Kierkegaard is clear that a proper politics if it is to exist, must be grounded in religious selfhood.

            The single individual as Kierkegaard makes clear in Two Ages is “an essentially human person in the religious sense”.[i]  Kierkegaard’s views are directed by a religious notion of selfhood. Politics without this source is a form of despair. By failing to see ourselves as religious beings, we are in despair. This despair cannot be the basis from which to transform the co-ordinates  of our current  position. These co-ordinates according to Zizek reduce us consumers and clients who are caught in the narrow circle of the commodity and the neo-liberalism of dehumanized globalization.

            Zizek does not accept “liberal democratic capitalism as the final formulation of the best possible society.”[ii]  While the spirit of Zizek’s critique is correct, the reality of his solution is monstrous and filled with terror. One can criticize capitalism and the many problems it has created without leaping into the loving arms of Lenin, Stalin or Mao as Zizek does. I think that Kierkegaard’s philosophy provides us with a better alternative. His philosophy provides us with a radical opening from which to re-think political theology from the position of the single individual to come. The program that Zizek upholds is not adequate for the transformation of society or self because it does not have a religious understanding of the individual. As such, Zizek’s position is grounded in despair, not love.

In this preliminary study[iii], I want to show that the best evidence for despair is found in Zizek’s writings. My Kierkegaardian concern is that Zizek remains at the aesthetic level of immediacy and impulse while not progressing to the stage of Religiousness B where authentic repetition is found.  In Kierkegaard words, “repetition begins in faith….repetition breaks forth by virtue of the religious”.[iv] To be clear, I am not critical of Zizek because he does not share the same sort of Christian faith that Kierkegaard has. I am pointing out that Zizek has no real ear for what Kierkegaard is trying to say. In short, Zizek makes a travesty out of Kierkegaard.[v]

I

The Inhuman Crowd

There is therefore no one who has more contempt for what it is to be a human being than those who make it their profession to lead the crowd. Let someone, some individual human being, certainly, approach such a person, what does he care about him; that is much too small a thing; he proudly sends him away; there must be at least a hundred. And if there are thousands, then he bends before the crowd, he bows and scrapes; what untruth! No, when there is an individual human being, then one should express the truth by respecting what it is to be a human being.

                Soren Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses.

 

When we usually think of repetition, we think of the mechanical in which the same thing happens perpetually. This repetition is boring and cannot give birth to an event. For Kierkegaard, repetition involves a reconciliation of the old and the new at the same time. It does not mean as Zizek claims, that the past can be erased so that we can start from “a zero point.”[vi]

Kierkegaard contrasts his notion of repetition with Plato’s metaphysics of recollection and Hegel’s metaphysics of mediation. Kierkegaard shows how his concept of repetition takes us beyond Plato’s recollection to a new future. He demonstrates how the Danish word Gjentagelse contains religious, ethical and metaphysical meaning. In Danish, repetition means to bring out or to fetch for Gjen means “again,” and tag means “day” and else means “getting” so the word means re-getting it again in a new way each day. Plato argued that recollection involves climbing up out of the cave and recovering the past truth that the soul knew before it fell. Platonic recollection recovers only what has been lost. As such, there is no real future within recollection. For Kierkegaard, repetition is a forward recollection that renews all things. It brings a future that is unexpected.

Kierkegaard argues against Hegel’s mediation because it negates the past. Kierkegaard shows how Hegelian mediation does not have a true living past. Hegel’s mediation remains quantitative and mechanical rather qualitative and truly transformative. Kierkegaard shows us how their can be a reconciliation of the past that allows for a new future.[vii] By arguing against the Platonic and Hegelian positions, Kierkegaard shows that neither can account for the truly new. Metaphysical necessity lacks the newness of the event that arises out of contingency and possibility. Kierkegaard shows if there is to be a truly free decision it has to be based on a qualitative leap rather than a quantitative buildup of antecedents such as the acorn becoming an oak tree. Kierkegaard’s model of repetition ultimately based on the incarnation and the notion of personhood that Zizek’s Hegelian-Lacanian model lacks.

Zizek is fond of quoting St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes,

From now on, therefore we regard no one from a human point of view…if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, everything old has passed away, see everything has become new. [viii]

Whereas Kierkegaard reads repetition as the new, Zizek interprets repetition as “the gesture of sublimation, of erasing the traces of one’s past”[ix] Here Zizek retains a Hegelian understanding that Kierkegaard rejects. In this beginning afresh, from a zero point Zizek writes, “there is also a terrifying violence at work in this uncoupling that of the death drive of the  radical wiping the slate clean as the condition of the new beginning”[x] Kierkegaard argues that repetition does not involve the erasure of the past, but a reconciliation with the past.

            Zizek sees this uncoupling as work of revolutionary love that leads to “the creation of an alternative community”[xi]  Kierkegaard would be opposed to Zizek’s position because it lacks responsibility. Kierkegaard’s repetition is responsible because it recovers the temporal past to make it new.

            Kierkegaard challenged the tradition of Greek ethics even as it still held on to the privileged place of right reason. Kierkegaard knew that Hegel was really more Greek in orientation than Judeo-Christian. Kierkegaard clearly saw that harmony under the natural law of reason was still understood as being more important than social justice for the single individual. In making his case, Kierkegaard draws on the insights provided by Amos, the first writing prophet who made a case for the single individual. Amos spoke for those who cannot speak for themselves. He speaks for the poor and for those who are suffering. He demands social justice for those who were sold for silver and a pair of sandals. His call for justice is rooted in love. It does not contain the terror that Zizek recommends for transforming the world.

As a Hegelian, Zizek often laments the loss of the Absolute. As a Leninist, he believes in the value of violence. He writes that “Kierkegaard enjoins a true Christian believer to hate the beloved himself out of love”[xii] To practice love in Zizek’s sense is to bring the sword and fire so that the co-ordinates of our entrenched liberal-democratic positions can be re-situated on a “new” Leninist ground.

In an essay entitled, “Only a suffering god can save us” Zizek claims that in  Kierkegaard’s “triad”, “of the Aesthetic, Ethical and Religious…..the true problem is not the choice between aesthetic and ethical levels (pleasure vs. duty) but between ethics and its religious suspension.”[xiii] Zizek continues, “We are never safely within the religious, doubt forever remains, the same act can be seen as religious or aesthetic in a parallax split which can never be abolished.[xiv] What Zizek says about doubt, may hold for the aesthete who lives in the temporality of the immediate moment stained with superficial passion and lacks the passionate inwardness of faith. It may hold for the ethical person who does have passion but remains troubled. It may even be true for the person of religiousness A, who is passionate about infinite resignation. However, Zizek misses Kierkegaard’s point that faith brings peace to our anxiety.[xv] Faith allows the self to rest transparently in the power that sustains it.  

The insights given in The Point of View  show how Zizek has not done justice to Kierkegaard’s position. For example, Kierkegaard writes,

If the crowd is Evil, if chaos is what threatens us, there is salvation only in one thing, in becoming a single individual in the thought of “that individual” as an essential category.[xvi]

Kierkegaard states that the whole of his “literary activity”, turns “upon the problem of becoming a Christian in Christendom”.[xvii] Christendom is defined as “the caricature of true Christianity, as a monstrous amount of misunderstanding”[xviii]

Kierkegaard argues, “wherever there is a crowd, there is untruth”[xix] From an ethico-religious perspective, “crowd stands for number”.[xx] The crowd as an abstraction “renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction”.[xxi] Kierkegaard argues that the individual as “the witness to truth” has “nothing to do with politics and must above everything else be most vigilantly on the watch not to be confounded with the politician”[xxii] who engages in confusion and untruth. Kierkegaard’s political theology is based on a responsible loving in the appropriation process of the most passionate inwardness which is truth.

            The Kierkegaardian witness is to engage himself if possible with all, but always individually in order to disintegrate the crowd. This witness has a duty to rescue the individual from the assemblage of the crowd. Following Lacan’s point that a letter always arrives at its destination here is the postcard written by Kierkegaard for Zizek,

It is impossible to attack the system from a point within the system. But outside it there is only one point: a spermatic point, the individual ethically and religiously conceived and existentially accentuated.[xxiii]

Kierkegaard is clear. He is defending a certain conception of individuality. It is this individuality that Zizek wants to overthrow or dialectically diminish.[xxiv] The following quote from Kierkegaard will guide us to the next section. He writes, “the individual is the category of spirit, of spiritual awakening, a thing as opposite to politics as well could be thought of”.[xxv]

II

Monstrous Politics

The only ‘realistic’ prospect is to ground a new political universality by opting for the impossible, fully assuming the place of the exception, with no taboos, no a priori norms (‘human rights’, ‘democracy’), respect for which would prevent us from ‘resignifying’ terror, the ruthless exercise of power, the spirit of sacrifice … if this radical choice is decried by some bleeding-heart liberals as Linksfaschismus, so be it! – Slavoj Žižek, Contingency, Hegemony and Universality

            In a recent book entitled The Monstrosity of Christ, Zizek writes with characteristic wit, “There is only one philosophy which has thought the implication of the four words (He was made man) to the end: Hegel’s idealism”[xxvi]  According to Zizek, Hegel as the thinker of Absolute Spirit has thought through the implications of the incarnation. Zizek uses Kierkegaard only to bring him back to Hegel who swallows individual freedom. In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel is clear:

The state is the actuality of concrete freedom. But concrete freedom consists in this, that personal individuality and its particular interests not only achieve their complete development but they also pass over their accord into the interest of the universal, they even recognize it as their own substantive mind: they take it as their end and aim and are active in its pursuits.[xxvii]

Hegel and Zizek with their emphasis on totality cannot do justice to the singularity of persons. As such, they cannot fathom the promise of the incarnation, which states, “all flesh shall be saved”. The significance of the incarnation for political theology should be evident. The incarnation with its focus on the body as love can rescue us from what Achille Mbembe calls “necropolitics” or the destruction of human bodies.  Necropolitics according to Mbembe, deploys weapons  “in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.”[xxviii] Instead of a politics of war, violence and death, we might have a political theology that values all flesh in its singular uniqueness.  This position is far removed from Hegel when he writes “the single person attains his actual and living destiny for universality only when he becomes a member of a corporation, a society”[xxix] The corporation has a collection and collective of bodies cannot be focused on the single individual. I think Emil Fackenheim is correct to point out that “any inquiry into the truth of Hegel’s philosophy must confront its claims with the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”[xxx]

            A number of former admirers have pointed out the bankruptcy of Zizek’s corporate position. Ernesto Laclau, an early supporter of Zizek’s politics now writes, “the more our discussion progressed, the more I realize that my sympathy for Zizek’s politics was the result of a mirage”.[xxxi] Claudia Berger argues that Zizek’s politics gives us a world, “eternally ruled by a monstrous earthbound Lord, a world not open to human agency and political change”[xxxii] Adam Kirsch observes, the louder (Zizek) applauds violence and terror, especially the terror of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, the more indulgently he is received by the Academic left which has elevated him into a celebrity and the center of a cult.[xxxiii] By following Alain Badiou who argues for “the eternal idea of egalitarian terror” Zizek succeeds in  “selling us a new tyranny”.[xxxiv] Zizek’s thinking to cite Hegel’s words from his famous preface is  “the same old stew continually warmed up again and again”. Zizek wants to bring Kierkegaard into this stew. Such a move is a classic example of Zizek’s inversion that is presented to us as a profound and necessary alternative to the liberal-democratic position.

            To be charitable, Zizek does make a number of necessary observations. He shows how the present liberal parliamentary consensus precludes any serious questioning of how its order “is complicit in the phenomena it officially condemns”[xxxv] Zizek shows us that we are given the freedom to question as long as our questions do not disturb the predominant political consensus. Here Zizek names Greenpeace, Doctors without Borders, feminist and anti-racist campaigns which are “tolerated even supported as long as they do not get too close to a certain limit”[xxxvi] I share Zizek’s concern that “our daily experience is mystifying….the reduction of freedom is presented to us the arrival of new freedom”.[xxxvii] I part ways when Zizek urges the reinvention of Lenin’s legacy as a reinvention of truth.

Zizek argues, “to put it in Kierkegaardian terms….the idea is not to return to Lenin but to repeat him in the Kierkegaardian sense, to retrieve the same impulse in today’s constellation.”[xxxviii] The name “Lenin” for Zizek, stands for “the compelling freedom to suspend the stale existing (post) ideological coordinates, the debilitating Denkverbot in which we live”.[xxxix] Here we see Zizek’s inversion at work again. Lenin who silenced his enemies and had his opponents murdered is presented as the person who allows for freedom of thought. Here is the evidence from Lenin himself, who writes,

But we say in reply: ‘Permit us to put you before a firing squad for saying that. Either you refrain from expressing your views, or, if you insist on expressing your political views publicly in the present circumstances, when our position is far more difficult than it was when the white guards were directly attacking us, then you will have only yourselves to blame if we treat you as the worst and most pernicious white guard elements.’

and

We stand for organized terror – this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution. Our aim is to fight against the enemies of the Soviet Government and of the new order of life. We judge quickly. In most cases, only a day passes between the apprehension of the criminal and his sentence. When confronted with evidence criminals in almost every case confess; and what argument can have greater weight than a criminal’s own confession.”[xl]

Zizek is not repeating Lenin. He is replicating him. By going back to Lenin, Zizek argues, “we obtain the right to think again”[xli] and in doing so we will be in a position to “break the spell of global capitalism”.[xlii] It is simply absurd to claim that Lenin can be repeated and that a utopian spark can be rescued from his writings. The utopian spark that Zizek claims to find in Lenin was never present. While Zizek calls for a repeat of Lenin, notice how he downplays the crimes against individual persons committed by Stalin and Mao. Zizek writes, “ In spite of all its horrors, the great Cultural Revolution in China undoubtedly did contain elements of such an enacted Utopia”[xliii]  and “The Stalinist….terror was a gesture of panic, a defense reaction against the threat to this State stability”[xliv]. We have heard this type of “Yes…But” logic in defense of Fascism and here Zizek repeats it for the monsters of the Left. Zizek wants to retain the Leninist “Utopian spark” but what he fails to realize is this spark helped to light the fires of misery and oppression.

            Zizek continues his Leninist observations in “Human Rights and its Discontents”.[xlv] The absurdity of his position escalates. The Lenin who murdered those who disagreed with him is now the Lenin who would save us to think. Lenin in Zizek’s view is now to become an educator. In Russell’s words[xlvi], “Such education does not aim at producing any mental faculty except that of glib repetition….From such an educational system nothing of intellectual value can result”.[xlvii] Glib repetition is the repetition that Zizek would have us return to which is evident from his misunderstanding of Kierkegaard’s position.

             Zizek argues that the Leninist intervention should be “properly political, not economic”[xlviii] My Kierkegaard reply is that such an intervention must be based on economy, economy understood as the law of the Kierkegaardian house.

 

 

III

Kierkegaard’s Housing Project

Imagine a house with a basement, first floor, and second floor planned so that there is or is supposed to be a social distinction between the occupants according to floor.  Now, if what it means to be human is compared with such a house, then all too regrettably the sad and ludicrous truth about the majority of people is that in their own house they prefer to live in the basement.

            Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

            Kierkegaard uses the image of a house to describe our relational personhood. I can live in the basement as an aesthete. I can also move to the first floor and live there ethically. In the struggle to be either aesthetic or ethical, I can discover the possibilities of the second floor and with infinite resignation, I can realize the limits of the temporal, the finite and the relative and relate to the eternal, the infinite and the absolute. Kierkegaard shows that infinite resignation is not enough. Faith is the double movement leap that enables one to live simultaneously on all floors of the house.

            I think that Zizek misreads Kierkegaard. He fails to realize that the person of faith does everything within the coordinates of living on all floors of the house at once. His decisions are not merely aesthetic, ethical or mystical. The person of faith makes a decision at each moment with a responsibility that takes all levels of the house into account. The person of faith, according to Kierkegaard makes decisions at each moment with a responsibility that takes all the levels of the house into account. Zizek with his emphasis on the aesthetic simply remains trapped in the Lacanian mode of desire and impulse.

            It is also clear that Zizek misreads the teleological suspension of the ethical. As Kierkegaard shows in Fear and Trembling,  Abraham leaps from the relative to the Absolute with the belief that he will get back the relative. He is resigned to give up Isaac while believing that he will get him back.

            According to Zizek, Kierkegaard reveals, “the properly modern point of our meta-tragic situation… when a higher necessity compels me to betray the very ethical substance of my being”.[xlix]  Zizek uses Kierkegaard to provide him with a model for the militant act of revolution, but I think that Zizek’s Kierkegaardian conceptualization of radical politics fails because it fails to understand Kierkegaard’s conception of faith and is ultimately at odds with Zizek’s collectivistic political project. While Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the single individual seems to cancel out the basis for community and politics, it is clear that he is only opposed to  the leveling off which forms “an abstract power and is abstraction’s victory over individuals.”[l] The collectivist project defended by Zizek would again result in a social totality where all sense of responsibility is negated and where totalitarian impulses, once again take hold.

            Zizek takes Kierkegaard’s reflections on the teleological suspension of the ethical and reads it as an act of emancipatory terror capable of transforming the coordinates of our social reality. In Zizek’s reading, the teleological suspension frees the agent to perform a proper revolutionary act. This act of terror according to Zizek is to be embraced with all its catastrophic consequences.

            The teleological suspension of the ethical becomes a political suspension of the ethical. This suspension involves the acceptance of terror. Zizek observes, “the pious desire to deprive the revolution of its excess is simply the desire to have a revolution without revolution”.[li] Zizek’s favorite example is taken from the film The Usual Suspects where Keyser Soze upon finding his family taken hostage by a rival gang, proceeds to murder his wife and children. This frees him to carry out the work of revenge without fear of his family being harmed.  In a similar fashion in the movie  X-Men: The Last Stand, (2006), Wolverine kills Jean in order to save her.  As he plunges his claws into her stomach, he confesses his love.

            This decision to kill what one holds most precious is praised by Zizek as the ultimate ethical act.[lii] Zizek writes that this violence should not be seen as a display of “impotent agressivity turned against oneself” but as an act of radical freedom which “changes the coordinates of the situation in which the subject finds himself”.[liii] The terror of the act allows the agent to gain the space of freedom.

            Zizek’s fictional hero Keyser Soze is not the father of faith but a fictional mafia boss who upholds the capitalist order that Zizek believes needs to be overthrown. Keyser Soze would agree with Milton Friedman that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. Soze strikes at his own so that his profits will increase.[liv] The cold-blooded calculation favored by Zizek cannot be found in Kierkegaard’s position. Zizek’s revolutionary subjectivity rests on terror and as such, it cannot respect the singularity and uniqueness of persons.

The most profound expression of repetition according to Kierkegaard is “atonement”[lv] To atone is to reconcile; “to bring together again”, “to make reparation”. How would Lenin and Stalin ever atone for the crimes they committed? How would they make amends? Zizek wants Lenin to be saved and redeemed. As such, there can be no reparation for Lenin’s victims but only for Lenin himself. The tone of such atonement does not ring very well because it is fall back into un-freedom. Kierkegaard argues,

In the individual, then, repetition appears as a task for freedom in which the question becomes that of saving one’s personality from being volatilized and, so to speak, in pawn to events.[lvi]

Unlike Kierkegaard’s single individual, Zizek’s Lacanian subject of the gaping Real is an expression of the tormented psyche that can find no rest. It seeks to fill the gap of its misunderstanding with obscene pathological fantasies. This obscene underground domain cannot be transformed by a repeat of Lenin, especially when Lenin’s so-called utopia became a nightmare whose blueprint still stains the ground in current-world-events. In reading Zizek’s declarations, one shudders at the fact that such theorizing  rests above many tens of millions of bodies. In Zizek’s words, “….I am a good Hegelian. If you have a good theory, forget about the reality.”[lvii]

In The Ticklish Subject[lviii]  Zizek approves of Brecht’s The Measure Taken (1930) that tells the story of a youth who agrees to be murdered by his comrades for compromising their mission.  Zizek see the murder of the youth as a sacramental event that is on par with the tenderness of the pieta. Brecht’s teaching play (Lehrstuck) is proof for Zizek that the Stalinist politician carries out purges, opens gulags and engages in murder for the love of humanity. Given the spirit of existentialism, permit me a personal example. Unlike Zizek who was not shot at, and who did support the State apparatus in Yugoslavia, I have seen the results of his so-called revolutionary tenderness in mass graves throughout Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.[lix] To repeat Lenin as Zizek urges would be to increases the catastrophe rather than diminish it. It would mean to prolong the famine in so-called great leaps forward rather than find solutions to poverty and hunger.   Zizek would have us turn up the volume on ruin while turbo-charging the speed of terror, all for the “love of humanity.”

Conclusion

             By way of some concluding remarks, it is clear that Zizek’s program masquerades as a concern for community and justice while it works to destroy the foundations of genuine community envisioned by Kierkegaard. When Zizek and Badiou urge a repeat of Lenin and Mao from the confines of their petit-bourgeois universities, their call is obscene and unwanted by those who know what suffering is.[lx]

            Kierkegaard’s defense of the single individual is an efficient critique of the violent and totalitarian kernel of Zizek’s politics. Kierkegaard’s political theology can be found quite clearly in Two Ages. There Kierkegaard argues,  “Not until the single individual has established an ethical stance despite the whole world, not until then can there by any question of genuinely uniting”. If Kierkegaard has a negative evaluation of the political it is because the political has not taken the single individual into account.

            What is the relevance of Kierkegaard’s politics vis-à vis today’s secular, democratc and emancipatory, and globalist ethos? Today’s secular politics is not emancipatory or democratic. Current politics has embraced power and violence and has not practiced compassion, love and forgiveness.

            Here a reading of Kierkegaard’s Works of Love as a political text would bring out a politics of love for the neighbour. Kierkegaard’s critique of the crowd is applicable today as a response to both Hardt and Negri. The multitude cannot act responsibility toward the other. It cannot forgive or display compassion. It displays force and revenge.

            Kierkegaard makes clear that love of neighbour is not love of humanity. The single individual does not exist in “humanity”. Love of neighbour is love of every other individual, not a love of all others collectively. Having reached the stage of religiousness B, the single individual cares for the neighbour in acts of love for every other. Such a move is missing in Zizek’s work. Kierkegaard with his emphasis on the single individual is not opposed to community. He is opposed to a false sense of community that eradicates all sense of individual existence. The evidence for this is given is clearly visible in mass graves and gulags.

            If the self is a relation that relates itself to itself and rests transparently in the power that established it then despair is a mis-relation “ in a persons innermost being”[lxi] For Kierkegaard the politics upheld by Zizek is a leveling off into a “monstrous abstraction as an all encompassing something that is a nothing, a mirage”.[lxii] Zizek’s politics delivers us over to despair. It is the politics of the enclosed reserve. As Kierkegaard writes in Works of Love, “What horror more terrible than if you had fallen among wild beasts for I wonder if even the wild nocturnal howling of bloodthirsty beasts is as horrible as the inhumanity of a raging crowd.”[lxiii] Kierkegaard’s politics performs the works of love for all individuals who live and exist throughout the house. Love builds from the ground up.[lxiv] Despair grounds one down. It is against this background that we can finally understand what Zizek means when he writes the following lines in his book on Violence:

If one means by violence a radical upheaval of the basic social relations, then, crazy and tasteless as it sounds, the problem with historical monsters who slaughtered millions was that they were not violent enough. Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.


Notes

[i]  Soren Kierkegaard, Two Ages, translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 33, 96.

[ii]  Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, (London: Verso, 2010), 88

[iii]  An earlier version of this paper was read atTrentUniversity. The paper was also presented at theKierkegaard Circle. I would like to thank  Ivan Khan for his kind invitation. I also wish to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their comments. All remaining mistakes, of course, are my own.

[iv]  Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, translated by Reidar Thomte, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980),18. Kierkegaard continues, “ In spiritlessness there is no anxiety….it is a perfect idol worshipper. It worships a dunce and a hero with equal veneration, but above anything else its real fetish is a charlatan”, 95.

[v]  This holds for Zizek’s reading of Derrida’s work as well. I develop a sustained critique of Zizek’s authorship in my forthcoming book, What Does Zizek Want? (Oregon: Wipf and Stock)

[vi]  See The Believer, “Interview with Slavoj Zizek”, July 2004.

[vii]  In Kierkegaard’s words from the Postscript, “Therefore the  Hegelian cannot possibly understand himself with the aid of his philosophy; he can understand only what is past, is finished, but a person who is still living is not dead and gone. Presumably he consoles himself with the thought the if one can understand China and Persia and six thousand years of world history, then never mind a single individual, even if it is oneself.”

[viii] St. Paul, Letter to the Corinthians, II C 5. 16-17

[ix]  Slavoj Zizek The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso,) 127. Hereafter cited as Fragile.

[x] Fragile, 127

[xi] Fragile, 130

[xii] Fragile, 154

[xiii] Slavoj Zizek, “ Only a suffering god can save us now” Retrieved from www.lacan.com, p. 1. October 12, 2009. Here Zizek  is misled by the terminological correspondence between Hegel and Kierkegaard. Given that Zizek is a Hegelian, when he sees Kierkegaard use words like Spirit, Mediation, and Self, he automatically concludes that Kierkegaard is borrowing from Hegel.

[xiv]  Ibid, 1

[xv]  See Concept of Anxiety, 159ff.

[xvi]  Soren Kierkegaard,  The Point of View For My  Work as an Author: A report to History, translated by Walter Lowrie (New York: Harper, 1962),  61. Hereafter cited as View. If for Kierkegaard “the prime condition of religiousness is to be a single individual”127, then Zizek’s Leninism removes all traces of individuality.

[xvii] View, 92

[xviii] View, 77

[xix] View, 110

[xx] View, 112

[xxi] View, 112

[xxii] View, 115

[xxiii]  View, 129

[xxiv]  In Zizek’s words from In Defense of Lost Causes, “  What matters is not the miserable reality that followed the upheavals, the bloody confrontations, the new oppressive measures and so on but the enthusiasm events stimulated in the external observer, confirming his hope in the possibility of spiritualized political collective.” 108. This is clear evidence that Zizek has not understood Kierkegaard’s position. Why should we embrace with “enthusiasm” a project that continued with its vicious degradation of persons? A study needs to be undertaken to understand why so many intellectuals have been taken in by Zizek’s totalitarian formulations.

[xxv] View, 132

[xxvi] Slavoj Zizek and John Milbank, The Monstrosity of Christ, (Boston: MIT Press, 2009)

[xxvii] GWF Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Translated by TM Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), 160

[xxviii]  Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics” Public Culture 15 (1), 2003, 11-40.

[xxix]  Right, 201

[xxx]  Emil Fackenheim, “ On the Actuality of the Rational and the Rationality of the Actual”, The Review of Metaphysics, Volume 23, No.4, 1970, 690-698.  Fackenheim here unmasks Hegel’s system for the sake of ethics.

[xxxi] See Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialouges on the Left (London: Verso, 2000), 73.

[xxxii]  Claudia Berger, “The Leaders Two Bodies” Diacritics, Spring 2000, 75. Berger wonders how Zizek has gained royal status and “renown in the Western theory market”. My answer to cite the market wisdom from Bosnia-Hercegovina is that Zizek is selling testicles as if they were kidneys.  See also the rejoinder by William David Hart, “ Can a Judgment be Read?: A response to Slavoj Zizek”, Nepantla 4:1 191-194. Hart writes, “ Zizek’s account evades the messy and nasty complexities of history….Zizek has things backwards indeed upsidedown…”

[xxxiii] Adam Kirsch, “The Deadly Jester” The New Republic, November 25, 2008.

[xxxiv] See Alan Johnson, “The Ruthless Mind of Slavoj Zizek”, Dissent, Fall 2009, 122-127

[xxxv] Slavoj Zizek, “ A Plea for Leninist Intolerance”, Critical Inquiry, 544. Hereafter cited as Plea.

[xxxvi] Plea, 545

[xxxvii] Plea, 545. A good example would be the sign at the MacDonald’s drive  through that reads, “Pay how you want” with the catch that you only have three choices: cash, Interac or Credit Card.

[xxxviii] Plea, 583

[xxxix]  Plea 583

[xl]. Excerpts from V.I. Lenin, “The Lessons of theMoscow Uprising” (1906)

[xli] Plea, 553

[xlii]  Plea, 553

[xliii]. Plea, 559

[xliv]. Plea, 565

[xlv]. Lecture given atBardCollege, November 16, 1999.

[xlvi] Russell describes his meeting with Lenin in 1920. Russell writes, “ Lenin was cruel. Lenin had no respect for tradition. Lenin considered all means legitimate for securing the victory of his party…. He thought the world was governed by dialectic, whose instrument he was. Lenin seemed to me at once a narrow-minded fanatic and a cheap cynic. He explained with glee how he had incited the poorer peasants against the richer ones, “and they soon hanged them from the nearest tree- ha! ha! ha!” His guffaw at the thought of those massacred made my blood run cold”.

[xlvii].  Russell, Unpopular Essays, (New York: Simon Schuster, 1964), 39

[xlviii]  Plea, 554

[xlix] Slavoj Zizek, Did Someone Say Totalitarianism, (London: Verso), 14

[l]  The Present Age, 79.

[li] Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London: Verso, 2002), 28-29

[lii]  Zizek is fond of such statements. For example, he writes, “  In spite of all its horrors, the great Cultural Revolution inChina undoubtedly did contain elements of such an enacted utopia” (Plea, 559) If the word utopia means “no place” what exactly is an “enacted utopia”? The enactment of a non-place?

[liii] Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, (London: Verso, 2000),  150

[liv] Zizek provides a number of examples of “striking at oneself”. They all seem to be at odds with his political program. See The Fragile Absolute, 149-153

[lv]. Postscript, 313

[lvi]. Postscript, 315

[lvii]. See Sean O’ Hagan, “Interview with Slavoj Zizek”, The Observer, June 27, 2010.  Do Zizek’s own words, “For me, always it is Hegel, Hegel, Hegel,” suffice for those who cling to the idea that he is a Marxist-Lacanian?

[lviii] See pages 379-380

[lix] Zizek argues that his reference to Lenin serves, “as the signifier of the effort to break the vicious circle of these false options” (Plea, 566) Zizek continues with his Lacanian reading claiming there is “in Lenin more than Lenin himself” (Plea, 266). So “to repeat Lenin is not to repeat what Lenin did but what he failed to do, his missed opportunities”. (Plea, 266) The logical question to ask is what did Lenin exactly fail to do? Is Zizek advocating a kinder, gentler state sponsored terrorism: Lenin with an excessive generosity? Between 1917 and 1959 over 60 million people were murdered in theSoviet Union. While this is not a scholarly argument it is however a practical and ethical argument against a repeat of Lenin. For the Left these numbers are acceptable because following Badiou and Zizek, they were a necessary outcome of the “Truth-Event known as the October Revolution”. A repeat of Lenin would be nothing more than a retread. Tires that are re-treaded blow up quickly sending flying debris onto the windshields bank-owned vehicles.  Here I follow Aquinas who writes, “useless repetition is vain”

[lx]  Here I think that Fichte was correct when he maintained that the kind of philosophy a person has shows the kind of person that they are.

[lxi] Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death, 49

[lxii]  Two Ages, 90. In the Journals Kierkegaard writes that the crowd represents a new form of tyranny. 4, Section 4235, 4144, 4166

[lxiii]  Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 169

[lxiv] Works, 216

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About Mark Zlomislic

Philosopher. Writer. Artist. My Studio/Gallery Inscape Fine Art is located in Cambridge, Ontario. Viewing by Appointment Only. Please email: zlomislic@hotmail.com.
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